Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Strain

People are buying 1970s computers as collector’s items for large amounts of money.  OR are they really buying them to have privacy and software that works without the Internet, ribbons, and a mouse?  Older seems better and more efficient because the early word processors work like typewriters.  Even typewriters are flying off the shelves at office supply stores and thrift shops because they are easier to use than computers and allow for privacy.  Many authors still use their first computers or typewriters according to their bios on line.  One of the most often asked questions at writers’ conferences and workshops these days is, “What kind of typewriter do you use.”  I am in complete sympathy with these people and wish I could join them.

Eye strain was a problem when I was still able to read using my eyes.  As their level of function decreased more and more, the level of eye strain increased.  I am only able to read gigantic print now under a closed circuit TV or hand printed with a 20/20 bold pen on paper.  The eye strain from both activities is quick, frustrating, and painful since I am only using my peripheral vision in one eye.

I became very spoiled by talking books, scanned books, and sighted readers when I was in graduate schools for over a decade.  What I read and when I read it was scheduled by a professor.  This kept the eye strain to a minimum.  When I became unemployed in 2005, I began to strain myself as well as my eyes.  There does not seem to be a harder job than the job search itself.  Finding jobs on line and applying with the usual paper resume, vita, and accompanying documents was manageable then.  For someone with low vision, filling out paper applications under a closed circuit TV was time consuming but not significantly more so than for sighted readers.

Around 2008 the strain of job hunting became impossible for people with low vision, legal blindness, and total blindness as we strained to keep up with our sighted competitors who could use the new online application forms.  Then and now, for over five years, online application forms, social media forms, job profile forms, and online forms for everything to do with job hunting from travel websites for interviewing to setting up online job agents that scan the Internet for jobs of interest to applicants have been completely or partially inaccessible for vision impaired users who do not have sighted help within arm’s reach.

Websites from LinkedIn to blogger to facebook have information on the screens that cannot be accessed with buttons or links because they are not identified in these ways.  Some experts in information systems swear that the problem is with the creator and manufacturer of the software that reads the screen.  They claim that these companies have not kept up with the changes and advances in technology.  I disagree.  I am a user.  The problem is the way the websites are coded by computer engineers.  They need to be taught how to write code that is accessible by everyone

There were several years after personal computers were invented and available to vision impaired consumers when they had full access to what was on their screens.  As the Internet came on board in the early 1990s, the great divide between what the sighted and the vision impaired could do was formed.  When graphics and the mouse became popular, especially in elementary education, the accessibility divide turned into a valley.  Technology continues to evolve.  For the vision impaired, these advances seem to be more regressive than progressive.  Computer engineers and graphic designers seem to want to put as much clutter on the desktop as is possible.  All of the parts of what would be in different locations in a book or magazine—the title page, copyright, table of contents, body, and index—are right there at the users fingertips unless the user is vision impaired.  Universities, libraries, and businesses attempt to hire proficient screen reader users to help colleagues and customers who seem to be incompetent.  They soon learn that when they hire someone who is vision impaired, their problems are not solved because only sighted users can read everything that is on the screens.

I, like many vision impaired people. Strain to keep up with all of the advances in technology.  There is an up side to all of this.  Around the year, 2000, the Library of congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped progressed from cassettes for talking books and magazines to digital materials that can be downloaded onto memory sticks (flash drives).  They provide the reading machines, materials, and training as well as information about how to received digital books in series that are already downloaded.  The vision impaired can now carry around fifty to 100 or more books and magazines on one flash drive that can fit in their pocket with plenty of room left over.  It is with pure joy that I now strain to find the time to read all of the materials that I have downloaded. 

The Hadley school for the blind, like the Library of Congress, has created a website and online courses that are 100% compatible with screen reading software.  I hope that in the near future there will be courses for software code writers that will teach them what the Library of Congress and the Hadley school for the blind have done to make computer use as easy as using a typewriter.  Until they do, the vision impaired will continue to be left behind.  .

When Life Hands You a Lemon

We’ve all heard that if life hands you a lemon we should make lemonaide.  I am not a very good cook, but I tried making lemonade, lemon meringue pie, and soooo much more when life handed me some sight loss from glaucoma.  When life handed me cataracts too, I tried writing a whole lemon lovers cookbook.  I’m older now and a bit less accommodating.  I’ve learned that real successes don’t waste their time making lemonade.  Stevie Wonder made music.  John Milton made poems.  John Howard Griffin who mysteriously lost all of his sight and then just as mysteriously got it all back, made books like Black Like Me and Scattered Shadows.

I gave myself a time out after getting an invitation to play advocate again.  Now I am getting back to business writing this blog, knitting a scarf, taking Hadley School for the Blind courses, and learning more about computers.  And I’m loving it!  Well, all except for computers.  Ugh.  I’m still waiting for one that is as easy to use as a toaster or a typewriter. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Catch Up is Just a Condiment

Catch Up is Just a Condiment.  It is not the main course.  If you or someone you know has low vision, moving forward is the only course to be on.  Catching up is not always possible.  Sometimes it can even clutter up your life and slow you down.

The temptation to play “catch up” can come with the diagnosis of an eye disease that has caused impaired vision as well as the diagnosis of other chronic conditions.  Suddenly the past seems clearer than the future.  If only I had known….  I would not have stopped or given up….  Now I can go after that degree, learn to play that instrument, ignite that romance that fizzled.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Remember what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back?  Playing catch up can have the same result.  You stop in your tracks.  Nothing gets done.

Focusing on the present, on the moment, being mindful of what is right in front of your nose is much better than falling backwards.  So today catching up means studying Braille so I can read menus in restaurants rather than studying a keyboard instrument.  Catching up means cleaning the clutter on my desk, doing the laundry, and shopping for groceries. 
  When I try to do it all, the quality of what I am doing suffers.  When I started looking back, I found that doors were shut and locked.  I could not go home again.  I could not jump start old relationships.  When I took a good look at what I had left behind and what I was letting go of, I was even glad and grateful for where I was now.  I love what I left.  I love what I have now.  I even love who I have become during the journey.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Healing Power of Bad Poetry

it "didactic versification"--just and academic way of saying "bad."

I am honored to be placed in the same category as other "bad" poets such as Rudjard Kipling who wrote:


If you can keep your head when all about you 
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
  But make allowance for their doubting too; 
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, 
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; 
  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
  And treat those two impostors just the same; 
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken 
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
  And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
  And never breathe a word about your loss; 
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
  To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
  Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!” 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch, 
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
  If all men count with you, but none too much; 
If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, 
  And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
(“You’ll be your own person”—my adaptation for us, ladies)

And then there is that other “bad” poet, John Milton, who wrote:

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg'd with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.

One of the poems in this genre that you probably have not read unless you are a member of my family or live in an Arbor is the following poem that I submitted
to a writing competition that the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living conducted:

Miracle Moment

The word “impossible” is just a tease
to those who would advance by great degrees
beyond the logic of a static state.
And “challenge” is a game they love to play
to keep away the boredom of each day
which comes to sneer at all they formulate.
A “problem” is a chance to break the rules
by working with imaginary tools
While lesser men just shake their heads and wait.
The miracles of life playfully come
to those who look beyond this world to some
much higher call that says to them, “Create.”
(Bourrie, Susan.  "Miracle Moment"  The Fulcrum.  Ann Arbor, MI:
Center for Independent Living, Nov. 1991.)

You can find “If” and “On His Blindness” online at Wikipedia.  If you look up “If” online, you will find scathing criticism of Kipling’s poem
by famous poets and scholars who call this work and others in this style Stoic, inspirational, and motivational as if these were bad things.  I can tell
you from personal experience that people who need to heal, who need to be healed, and even those who are the healers need to be inspired, motivated, and stoical.  My poem, “Miracle Moment,” was written During one of the lowest times in my life.  I wrote it to motivate me to do the impossible, get out of bed in the morning.  It worked; but much later when I was hit hard with discrimination during my job search and ended up on welfare, I was not happy to have this poem staring me in the face.  I wished I had never written it.  I did not want to get up again.  Life was impossible.  If I didn’t get up again, I would be a hypocrite, so I showed up at the door
of a Jesuit priest and learned that doing the impossible begins with just one goal each day.

Before you begin the adventure of a new day, you must have hope.  “Bad” poetry gives hope, especially when the words are combined with music.  So when you need to “Climb Every Mountain,” “Put on a Happy Face,” or say “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be)” because “Raindrops Keep Fallin’” on your head, go find some “bad” poetry—or even better—write some.